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Richard II

A scene from Richard II

Introduction to the play

Shakespeare’s Richard II presents a momentous struggle between Richard II and his cousin Henry Bolingbroke. Richard is the legitimate king; he succeeded his grandfather, King Edward III, after the earlier death of his father Edward, the Black Prince. Yet Richard is also seen by many as a tyrant. He toys with his subjects, exiling Bolingbroke for six years.

When he seizes the title and property that should be Bolingbroke’s, Richard threatens the very structure of the kingdom. Bolingbroke returns with an army that is supported by nobles and commoners alike, both believing themselves oppressed by Richard. This sets the stage for a confrontation between his army and the tradition of sacred kingship supporting the isolated but now more sympathetic Richard.

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Cover of the Folger Shakespeare edition of Richard II

The Folger Shakespeare

Our bestselling editions of Shakespeare's plays and poems

This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise

Act 2, scene 1, lines 45–47

For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings

King Richard
Act 3, scene 2, lines 160-161

Richard II in our collection

A selection of Folger collection items related to Richard II. Find more in our digital image collection

William Hamilton. The Duke of York discovering his son Aumerle's treachery. Oil on canvas, comissioned for the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery, late 1790s
Oscar Asche as Bolingbroke. Photograph by J. & L. Caswall Smith.
Lily Brayton Queen to King Richard and attendants. Photograph by J. & L. Caswall Smith.
Act 5, scene 2: Richard, Bolingbroke, etc. Painted by J. Northcote ; engraved by R. Thew.

Essays and resources from The Folger Shakespeare

Richard II

Learn more about the play, its language, and its history from the experts behind our edition.

About Shakespeare’s Richard II
An introduction to the plot, themes, and characters in the play

Reading Shakespeare’s Language
A guide for understanding Shakespeare’s words, sentences, and wordplay

An Introduction to This Text
A description of the publishing history of the play and our editors’ approach to this edition

Shakespeare and his world

Learn more about Shakespeare, his theater, and his plays from the experts behind our editions.

Shakespeare’s Life
An essay about Shakespeare and the time in which he lived

Shakespeare’s Theater
An essay about what theaters were like during Shakespeare’s career

The Publication of Shakespeare’s Plays
An essay about how Shakespeare’s plays were published

Related blog posts and podcasts

Teaching Richard II

Early printed texts

Richard II was first printed in 1597 as a quarto (Q1) and then reprinted twice in 1598 (Q2 and Q3). In 1608, the play was printed again (Q4), this time including what we now refer to as the deposition scene (4.1.160–331). This version of the play was then reprinted in 1615 (Q5). The play was included in the 1623 First Folio (F1) in a text that includes a fuller version of the deposition scene, supplies more detailed stage directions, omits around 51 lines, and divides the play into acts and scenes. The Folger edition of the play follows Q1, except for the deposition scene, which it supplies from F1.